The Hudson River was once treated as the region’s sewer. Industrial development, rampant growth, raw sewage discharges, and toxic contamination drove all but the hardiest away from the river. However, in the 1960s, the fights of the original Hudson River fishermen signaled a new era, not only on their river, but nationally as the modern environmental movement took hold.
The legal battle to save Storm King Mountain on the Hudson– waged to preserve a precious scenic resource and protect threatened fish spawning habitat– was the first major environmental case. This case gave citizens “standing” in court to challenge government decisions based on aesthetic and environmental impacts and led to the enactment of the National Environmental Policy Review Act (NEPA). The landmark passage of the Clean Water Act (CWA) in 1972 made it illegal to discharge pollutants, whether liquids or solids, into waterways without permits. Perhaps more than any other law, the CWA heralded the end of uncontrolled dumping into the Hudson and its tributaries. The CWA also importantly contained a citizen suit provision, which enabled groups like Riverkeeper to stop polluters in their tracks.
Three decades later, the Hudson has once again retained its status as the region’s gem. Anglers, boaters and bathers flock to its waters to experience the wonders of this great river. By and large, industries and municipalities have ceased their polluting ways and have developed a respect for the resource. However, sustained vigilance is needed to ensure that the great gains in water quality are not reversed. Many river segments, particularly in urban communities and areas of sprawl growth, remain threatend. And with government enforcement of environmental laws spiraling downward at the state and federal level, Riverkeeper is working overtime to bring violators to justice.